Dessert wines – when paired with the right foods – can be the exclamation point on a magnificent meal. Yet, they are shrouded in mystery to many. I’m here to shed some light on these beauties: what they taste like, how best to serve them and what food is most delicious with them. But first, I’ll drop a little knowledge on you:
- Sweet, fortified wines are super ageable because of high acidity and high alcohol – so you can cellar them for decades!
- Opened, sweet, fortified wines will last weeks, if not months, in your fridge – properly corked or rubber stoppered with a- Vacuvin. Yes, months – I once had a 30-year-old Port in my fridge for six months, corked and it was fine when I opened it back up. So open ’em up and don’t worry about having to polish it all off in one night!
- Serve sweet wines chilled – white and red ones. A refrigerator is 35 degrees F. White dessert wines should be at 45-50 degrees F and reds at about 60-65 degrees.
- Use standard wine glasses, not dinky cordial glasses. Because of the richness and sweetness, your pour should be about two-three ounces, max (as opposed to a four-to-six ounce pour for a dry wine).
If you ask me, there are three countries that produce exceptional dessert wines: Austria, Portugal and FRANCE! And I love France, so I was excited to taste through four beautiful French Dessert Wines and share some pairing ideas with you!
I have to thank my friends at H2Vino in Chicago for providing these four gorgeous wines. I researched, I consulted cookbooks, I baked (oy, did I bake) and I’m happy to share my impressions of these wines, and some fun ideas for pairings, because it’s the holidays! It’s drinking season! Let’s get to it!
BANYULS Banyuls is the name of a dessert wine from the Roussillon region in far, far southern France, near the Pyrenées. (It’s practically in Spain, its so far south.) The grapes are Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris. And you know what Banyuls wants? One thing: CHOCOLATE! Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, all day long! I tasted two different Banyuls wines from the same producer, which was super fun, and to pile more fun on top of that, one was made in the Solera style (which I’ll explain). Let’s drink!
♥♥♥Domaine Madeloc by Pierre Gaillard Banyuls (Robert Pagès) A long title of a really nice Banyuls. The wine is 90% Grenache Noir and 10% Grenache Blanc, and it is non-vintage (meaning it is a blend of wines made in several different years). It’s aged in casks or sometimes glass vessels left in the sun to oxidize and age more quickly. The wine tastes like delicious sweet alcoholic raisins, with a hint of rich dried plums, and just a touch of spice, like cardamom.
Food Pairing: We tasted it with these chocolate cookies with chocolate frosting and flaky sea salt and I’ll be honest: it made the cookie taste better (because this cookie recipe was all jacked-up – from a major food mag, no less! — and was kind of mediocre on its own). We also tasted it with a milk chocolate peanut cluster topped with sea salt made by my friend Meg. While milk chocolate is sometimes too sweet for me, it was perfect with this wine! The salty peanuttiness (yep, I made up that word) lent a nice contrast to the sweetness of the wine. So get your Goo-Goo Clusters and a bottle of this and thank me later!
♥♥Domaine Madeloc by Pierre Gaillard Solera Banyuls WOW, this wine was big! It’s aged in solera, which is Spanish in origin. In the solera method, wines of different ages are transferred from barrel to barrel every year, so you ultimately get a barrel of wine that contains wines of many different ages – some of the wine could be 10, 20, 30 years old, or even up to 50 years old! Cool! The result is a very complex wine. This particular wine was redolent of vanilla (which comes from the barrels themselves) and we also detected an intriguing note of burnt orange. It was almost like a Port wine in its intensity and layered flavors.
Food Pairing: This was delicious with just a square of plain dark chocolate. And because of its similarity to Port, we tried it with – of all things – cheddar cheese – and guess what? The saltiness and richness of the cheese was actually really good! So I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting a cheese course with this particular Banyuls wine. I’d go with a cheese with some aggressive personality, like a ripe Camembert or a funky goat cheese If you like bleu cheese (which I most definitely do not), that would work too, but not if I’m coming over!
SWEET WHITE BORDEAUX: This could be regarded as a cousin of Sauternes, that highly regarded sexy minx of a dessert wine. It is technically not Sauternes because the appellations are outside of the designated Sauternes appellation. But the wines are sweet, complex, complicated and delicious (and frequently much lower in price.)
♥♥Chateau Cousteau Cadillac Sauternes 2014 is produced in the Cadillac appellation of Bordeaux, specifically in Entre-Deux-Mer. The grapes are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle that have acquired the esteemed “noble rot,” also known as botrytis cinerea. Oh, wait, you think that sounds gross? It’s not — “noble rot” refers to the effect on grapes that have stayed on the vine until they literally shrivel up like raisins – which was referred to as “rot” back in the day, but it leaves the grapes bursting with super concentrated sweetness and flavor. This wine was dark yellow in color, and had sweet notes of honey, roasted pineapple and dried apricot with a touch of salinity in the finish.
Food Pairing: The most famous pairing with Bordeaux sweet wine is seared foie gras, but lacking a lobe of foie gras, we tried this wine with shortbread cookies – good. Better: creamy, salty, somewhat assertive cheese. I would put out a whole cheeseboard including double or triple creme cheeses like ripe Brie, Camembert, Reblochon or St. Andre, as well as some salty hard cheeses like Mimolette, and some brown bread, honey or apricot preserves, and honeyed almonds or cashews and sigh with happiness.
JURANÇON This is another wine appellation in the Southwest of France, very close to the Pyrenées. Established in 1936, it was one of the first named appellations in all of France! The primary main grapes grown in Jurançon are Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Courbu, and the vines are grown on steep hillsides and harvest does not even start until mid-October for dry wines and mid-to-late October for sweet wines.
♥♥♥Domaine Cauhapé Symphonie de Novembre 2015 This is 100 percent Petit Manseng, which is never picked until November. We looooved this wine. It had the classic honey and dried apricot flavors of a sweet white dessert wine, but it was not crazy-sweet – much more mildly sweet. Lovely fresh acids wake up your palate and make you want another sip.
Food Pairing: We loved this wine with rich, buttery shortbread, but guess what else was delicious with it? Toasted banana-coconut bread. Yep – this could be a great brunch wine. I also can imagine it with French toast, especially with some slivered almonds on top – and a side of salty, smoky bacon or sausage. Another idea: salty Asian fare, like sushi or Thai food. This wine is super versatile!
As we all share tables full of delicious food and wine with friends, this season, I hope you feel inspired to add a French dessert wine to your menu soon! Break out the chocolate, break out the cheese and find out what’s in that bottle!
And join us on Saturday, December 16th at 10am CST on Twitter as my friends in The French #Winophiles dish more about sweet French wines. Find the hashtag #Winophiles and explore our questions and answers, photos and articles, recipes and travel plans! Check out these other awesome posts!
Discovering Maury AOC with Susannah at Avvinare
Quince Crumble with Lillet Blanc Cordials created by Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
2011 Châteu Grand-Jauga Sauternes presented by Amber at Napa Food and Vine
The Sweet Secret of Barsac: Château Doisy-Daëne #Winophiles comes from Lynn at Savor the Harvest
Revealing Roussillon’s Sweeter Side from Michelle at Rockin Red Blog
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Sauternes with Jeff at FoodWineClick!
How to Pair Sauternes with Dessert served up by Jane at Always Ravenous
Jill at L’Occasion tucks into Dessert Wines from Southern France